From the Viewsroom

Imagine there’s no caste

Venky Vembu | Updated on February 14, 2019

A Tamil Nadu woman realises a John Lennon-esque dream

In a country where many people wear the superficial markers of their identity — be it caste or religion — like a badge of honour, a female lawyer in Tamil Nadu is shining a beacon and showing the way for the evolution of a modern, progressive society that is premised on neither of those sociologically constructed attributes. Earlier this month, Snegha Parthibaraja, 35, from Tirupattur, secured a certificate from the town’s tahsildar stating that she “does not belong to any caste or religion”. That small step for social change marked the culmination of a decade-long effort by her to secure official acknowledgement of her caste-less and religion-less identity. But in the absence of any precedents, the bureaucracy had stonewalled her — until now. Snegha is, in the reckoning of local officials, the first Indian to secure such a certification. For her, that piece of paper is testimony to a life lived on high-minded principles that let her and her husband break free of socially divisive identities. And that mindset runs in their family: Snegha says that in their three daughters’ school application forms, the ‘caste’ and ‘religion’ columns have been left blank. She adds that she would like to see people of means emulate her and, by extension, renounce any affirmative action benefits based on caste and religion, leaving those for the economically weaker sections alone.

When ex-Beatle John Lennon imagined a world without religion or countries or possessions, his peacenik anthem was celebrated as a Utopian goal worthy of pursuit. But in equal measure, it was dismissed as a poetic collation of radical, even dangerous, ideas. The sociological constructs of society, of faith, and of nationhood are so rooted in tradition that even a dream of peace and universal love comes across as an anarchic attempt to uproot an established order. Snegha Parthibaraj’s symbolic renunciation of her caste and religious identities is no less radical in scope than Lennon’s. You may say she’s a dreamer, but — like Lennon before her — she’s not the only one...

Published on February 14, 2019

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